The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is here.
It's a joyous time which can be filled with last minute
details and lots of running around. We tend not to
have enough time to get everything done and are
prone to stress.
yourself, take time to relax and absorb all of the
wonderful memories you'll be creating into the New
Year. Enjoy gatherings with loved ones (See Below,
Gathering Survival) and remember those who are
longer here (See Remembering Loved Ones During
Once again thank you for helping to get the word out
(co-authored with Annie Gilbar), Wedding Sanity
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Wishing you a Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas,
Joyous Kwanzaa, and Happy New Year along with
health, peace and
Surviving Holiday Gatherings
We Idealize the Holidays
fantasize about our expectations of holiday
gatherings and dream of the perfect celebration;
everyone united in family harmony. You know, the
event when sibling rivalry is checked at the door,
there are no intrusive or sarcastic comments about
your social life, employment, appearance, or children.
People are treated respectfully, graciously, kindly and
everyone has the feeling that everyone else is so
happy to see them that there could never be enough
time to spend together. Right? Wrong.
Maybe it's Time to Change Your
No one has the perfect family or lives in the
perfect world, yet we hope and pray
that THIS year things (people) will be different.
Maybe it's time to examine and come to terms with
what the holidays really mean to you. Instead of
change the behavior patterns and attitudes of your
family members, change YOUR perception and
about how you can still enjoy the holidays and find
meaning when you are together with your family. You
can accomplish this while at the same time keeping
all of the enriching family rituals that are so
important to you, your children and your family.
Savour Family Time and Enjoy Everyone's
do not just have to be about who brings what to the
table (and I am not only talking about the food.) It
can be a time for communal reflection, family stories,
sharing of memories, as well as hopes for the future.
Here are some Sanity Savers to
help you along just in case your holiday experience
falls a tad short of the idealized image. And
even though it may seem so, you are not the only
person whose family doesn’t look like the one in the
- Keep your expectations realistic or better
yet don’t have any expectations – Even though
like our holiday celebrations to look like a magazine
spread and be thoroughly enjoyable, this is an
idealized view and is likely to go sour. Instead, allow
yourself to “go with the flow,” expect last minute
changes, keep a sense of humor and don’t take
- Approach gatherings with a feeling of
Believe it or not, everyone in your family has
affected you in some way and it’s important to
concentrate on the positive contribution they have
made to you as well as others.
- Focus on a specific quality, personality
or gift each person in the family has given you -
Savour that big hug and kiss from your niece rather
than her tantrum later on when she spills gravy
on her new holiday dress.
- Go with an open mind – Don’t get bogged
with family “history” (baggage) that has little bearing
on today. Open your mind and hopefully your heart
will follow. Remember as much as you may want
people to change you cannot change them. You can,
however, change yourself and your attitude.
- Be aware of triggers from the past that you
want to repeat with certain family members this
year – If you know that your sister is still fuming
about forgetting her birthday, give her a cherished
family photo that she may not have or invite her to
doing something fun and out of the ordinary.
- Think about what you can bring to the
Everyone in a family makes their own unique
contributions. What can you do this year that
reflects your own personal touch? Understand that
you may not be the center of attention.
- Focus on making your time with family special
There are not many days out of the year when family
members are all together. So use the time wisely
and tell each one what they mean to you or what
you have learned from them. Bring a camera or a
recorder to document the family interaction in the
way you would like.
- Ask non-intrusive questions about what
are interested in and doing with their life – Be
genuinely interested in their stories and listen with
attentiveness. Suspend judgment.
- Do not feel propelled to respond to personal
questions directed towards you – Instead
disengage from the conversation. When asked, “So
have you got a girlfriend?” respond, “Thanks for your
interest, I’ll let you know when it happens”. Or if
someone inquires about your job hunting, answer
them by saying, “I appreciate your concern but
today, I’m not talking about work."
- Share the parts of your life you want to
share. Be careful not to violate your own
Politely direct conversation in another direction. Be
careful not to get pulled into old patterns or assume
|Happening in December
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Dates and times subject to change.
Remembering Loved Ones During the Holidays
The holidays usually make us think of those who are
no longer with us or of relationships that are no
longer the way we would like them to be. Our loss is
more keenly felt as we evoke memories of the past
with the person who is absent. The loss is
further accentuated because we miss them at our
Pay attention to who IS present while
consciously bringing to mind stories or traditions that
were unique to the people who are not there. This
can be emotionally moving as well as a wonderful
opportunity to recall with joy the gifts you have
received from the special people in your lifetime.
To cope with your feelings of loss during the holidays:
- Enrich your life by processing
the loss of loved ones and moving forward -That
person would want you to be happy. Honor his or her
memory by taking time to heal your own heart with
reflection while enjoying the holidays with those who
- Create Your Own Traditions – New
rituals can serve as a structure to replace family
customs that may have been lost when your loved
- Do Something on Behalf of the Individual-
Contribute to their favorite charity or commemorate
their memory in some way, each year, or each
By dealing with your feelings of loss in anticipation of
and during the holidays, you prepare yourself to
celebrate the life of the person and appreciate the
gifts they gave you. This is part of healing because
when someone dies their loss is felt in different ways
throughout our life. By allowing yourself to be open
to how your grief transforms you, the chances are
greater that you will be more able to appreciate the
Here are additional TIPS to help you process your
feelings of loss:
- Quietly reflect on our loved one’s life -
How are you like them, what fond memories can you
recall, what stories about our deceased loved one
can you pass down to your children? Visit the
cemetery or create a memorial space where you can
have time to just "be".
- Create a remembrance ceremony - Make
a candle centerpiece where each candle represents
someone who has died. As you light each candle,
share a memory about each person. This does not
have to be maudlin. It can be a joyous memory, a
funny story, something that makes you smile and
keeps their memory alive.
- Continue a tradition they started
- Bake grandma's favorite pie, attend a
community church service as your deceased mom
did, serve at a soup kitchen before dining as a
family as your father did.
- Share memories with other family members
- Show pictures from family trips, wear your
aunt's heirloom pin and tell others about the day she
gave it to you, pass around your mom's
- Journal – Before and after family
gatherings, write down what you feel. Hopefully you
will find comfort in releasing your feelings on paper so
you can enjoy gatherings with others around
- Include rituals that have been longstanding
and begin new ones - Continue legacies that
keep memories alive of your loved one and try to
incorporate new traditions which will give you and
your family a fresh outlook and hope for the
When the heart grieves over what it has lost, the
spirit rejoices over what it has left.
DALE V. ATKINS Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist,
lecturer and media commentator who appears
on the Today show.
She has more than twenty-
years of experience as a relationship expert,
focusing on families, couples, parenting, aging well
and stress management.
Dr. Atkins is the author
and/or co-editor of several books including:
SistersFrom the Heart:
Their Private Thoughts about their Private
Families and their Hearing-Impaired
OK, You're My Parents
How to Overcome
Let Go of Anger and Create a Relationship that
Wedding Sanity Savers
Handle the Stickiest Dilemmas, Scrapes and
Questions that Arise on the Road to Your Perfect
Find out more....
As Seen on the TODAY SHOW
Wedding Sanity Savers
How to Handle the Stickiest Dilemmas, Scrapes and Questions that Arise on the Road to Your Perfect Day
You're My Parents
How to Overcome Guilt, Let Go of Anger, and Create a Relationship That Works
Now in Paperback!